So it’s Christmas Eve, time for oyster stew and “Silent Night.”
“Silent Night” will be played in countless Christian churches tonight as folks hold those little white candles with that cardboard thing that keeps hot wax from dripping on your hand. A scalding wax burn can cause a person to say something less than Christmassy, even at a such a delicate moment.
After all of the pressure and commercialized hype of the season, just at the point when many of us are about to bah-humbug the whole thing for good, comes that simple song and the darkened church and the candles. You’d have to be a pretty grizzled grinch not to be moved. at least a little.
I’m moved, and amused.
That’s because in third grade, I played the Rev. Joseph Mohr in a school Christmas production. Mohr wrote a poem that his pal Franz Gruber turned into the song “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve 1818 in Oberndorf, Austria.
I’m not sure what Mohr was wearing in 1818, but in 1979, I was donning a sort of rusty tan polyester suit with an open, broad-collared shirt. A gold chain completed the ensemble. I’m not making this up. (There's probably a photo somewhere, but I haven't got it.)
Anyone who happened to be in Belmond’s Luick Memorial Auditorium that afternoon might have been led to believe that it was actually a small, skinny Shaun Cassidy who wrote “Silent Night.” Or maybe a young Tom Jones. “What’s new Silent Night? Woah woah woah whoah.”
So if you ever see me chuckle during the solemn splendor of “Silent Night,” you’ll know why.
As for the oyster stew, I’ve long pondered the why. We’ve eaten it pretty much every Christmas Eve since I could hold a spoon.
I love it and look forward to it. But the explanation of why we eat it on Christmas Eve is elusive.
I always assumed it was a German thing. But on the interwebs, the consensus seems to give credit to Irish immigrants, Roman Catholics who ate fish soup on the night before the feast of Christmas but substituted oysters in America. Maybe somebody out there has a different theory. Send it along.
The best explanation I found can be read here.
There’s also the transport factor, because, back in the day, seafood from the coasts could be transported far inland once the weather turned cold. By late December, oysters were available even in the Midwest. A search of The Gazette’s archives turns up oyster stew mentions in the 1880s and recipes in 1912 (above) and 1915.
Here’s hoping that you enjoy your own traditions, and have a merry Christmas.